Washington Nationals: Matt Wieters on the verge of breaking out

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Matt Wieters
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Matt Wieters /

Washington Nationals catcher Matt Wieters had a nightmarish 2017 campaign, but he is off to a great start in 2018.

When the Washington Nationals signed Matt Wieters to replace Wilson Ramos as their starting catcher, they had lofty expectations for the veteran backstop. After all, he was a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner.

Unfortunately, Wieters’ debut season in DC was the worst of his career. He got off to a hot start in April, slashing .301/.400/.534 with four homers and 12 RBI, but his outstanding stats were diminished by June.

On the year, Wieters slashed .225/.288/.344 and struggled in all facets of the game.

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Knowing he had to make an adjustment, Wieters improved his diet and lost 15 pounds this offseason. He felt that fatigue played a significant role in his struggles and slimming down would help him stay fresh.

The early results point to vast improvement.

Wieters turned in a strong spring training, which was cause for cautious optimism. Then, an oblique injury forced him to the disabled list after just two games.

Fortunately for the Nats, Wieters has returned and is playing better than ever. Since his brief stint on the disabled list, he has resembled an all-star-caliber player.

At the plate, Wieters is hitting the ball hard. This has not always resulted in hits, but things have begun to go his way over the last couple games. In his last two games, he is 3-for-6 with two homers, three RBI, and a walk.

Wieters has also cut down on strikeouts. He went down on strikes 94 times last year, which was his most since 2013 and sixth-worst among National League catchers.

Since returning from the disabled list, Wieters has only struck out once in nine at-bats. It is also worth noting that his lone strikeout came in a pinch-hitting appearance against Rockies closer Wade Davis. Wieters is not accustomed to coming off the bench and faced a difficult matchup.

Wieters was one of Kevin Long’s most important projects this spring, and their work has appeared to pay off.

In addition to improving at the plate, Wieters has also looked better behind it.

Pitchers, especially Gio Gonzalez, have always praised Wieters’ defensive skills, but his impact is much more evident this year. He has done a very nice job behind the plate and has helped pitchers maneuver their way through a difficult Rockies lineup.

A prime example of Wieters’ defensive impact came in the sixth inning of Saturday afternoon’s win. Max Scherzer began the inning by falling behind Jon Gray 2-0, which made Wieters take a trip to the mound. After the mound visit, Scherzer threw seven consecutive strikes, en route to a perfect frame.

Although it is still early, Wieters appears to be on the verge of breaking out. Dave Martinez is penciling Wieters into the heart of the lineup, and he has rewarded the skipper with a few big hits.

Next: Uphill battle favors the Nats

A bounce-back season would be huge for Wieters and the Nats, as his presence gives the team one of the deepest lineups in the league. His success, or lack thereof, will be a large factor in determining what the team ultimately accomplishes.